Opportuntiy with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
The Oval Office
The White House
January 30, 2003
12:13 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: I will make an opening statement; Silvio will make an opening
statement; we'll have one question from the Americans, one question from the
Italians. We're running a little late -- we'd like to spend hours answering
your questions, but the problem is we've got other matters to work on.
First, it's my honor to welcome Silvio Berlusconi back, he is a personal friend.
Italy is a great friend of America, America is a great friend of Italy. The
Prime Minister and I will of course be talking about a lot of matters, the most
significant matter will be how to keep the peace, how to make the world a peaceful
I am most grateful that the Prime Minister signed a letter, along with other
leaders of European countries, which clarified the issue that we're dealing
with -- and that is that Saddam Hussein is a clear threat to peace. It was a
strong statement. It also was a statement of solidarity with the United States,
and I appreciated that very much.
THE PRIME MINISTER: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate your friendship. I welcome you back to the Oval
Office and look forward to having a long and fruitful discussion.
THE PRIME MINISTER: We are here for good work, for a just cause and for everybody,
I think. And I am here with a friend, with a country, that is the best friend
of my country.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. And your English is very good.
THE PRIME MINISTER: No, no. I have never the time. We have so much to do in
Italy, I have not time to --
THE PRESIDENT: Not the time to practice?
THE PRIME MINISTER: -- to learn better English.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you for that kind comment. Ron.
QUESTION: Sir, are you open to giving Saddam a final deadline, and you willing to let
him slip into exile -- this, a man who recently said he wants to break the neck
of our country?
THE PRESIDENT: First, let me echo the comments of my National Security Advisor,
who the other day in commenting about this process said this is a matter of
weeks, not months. In other words, for the sake of peace, this issue must be
resolved. Hopefully, it can be done peacefully. Hopefully the pressure of the
free world will convince Mr. Saddam Hussein to relinquish power. And should
he choose to leave the country, along with a lot of the other henchmen who have
tortured the Iraqi people, we would welcome that, of course.
I will tell my friend, Silvio, that the use of military troops is my last choice,
not my first. The commitment of young men and Americans into battle is a difficult
decision, because I understand the cost of war. But I also understand the cost
of inaction. There is a high price to be paid for the civilized world by not
enforcing the opinion of the world, which was for Saddam Hussein to disarm.
There's a reason why leaders around the world believe he ought to disarm. There's
a reason why the Security Council of the United Nations voted 15-0 to say to
Saddam, disarm -- and that's because he's dangerous.
Would you care to call on somebody from the Italian press?
THE PRIME MINISTER: In Italy, I already said it, I have the opportunity to say
that we have always been the faithful ally country of United States, we are
close friends of the United States, also in this case.
I believe that the moment has arrived to find out where all the weapons of mass
destruction that Saddam Hussein said he had, where they ended up. We really
fear that after the series of terrorist attack, which culminated with the attacks
on September 11th, there is the intention of the terrorists is to really come
to a terrible disaster. And to do so, they have to avail themselves of the biological,
chemical weapons that we know were available as Saddam Hussein.
Therefore, on the basis of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441,
Saddam Hussein has to reveal and account for the weapons that we know he has.
So the decision on face rests in his hands. We all want peace.
And I'm here today to help my friend, President Bush, to convince everybody
that this is in the interest of everybody. And if we are all united, the European
Union, the United States, the Federation of Russia, everybody, all the other
states under the United Nations, then Saddam Hussein will understand that he
will have no other option but to reveal the arms and to destroy them.
THE PRESIDENT: Along those lines, let me make one clarification on my statement.
I think that no matter how Mr. Saddam is dealt with, the goal of disarming Iraq
still stays the same, regardless of who is in charge of the government. And
that's very important for the Iraqi people to know.
And I also want to assure Silvio that should we require military action, shortly
after our troops go in, will go food and medicine and supplies to the Iraqi
people. We will, of course, win militarily, if we have to. But we'll also want
to make sure that we win the peace, as well.
Would you care to call on somebody in the Italian press?
QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, I just had a question. You expressed your sentiment to
friendship for the United States, and loyalty. Now, will you be ready to commit
Italy to go along with the United States should the United States put together
a coalition of the willing, as the President has said?
And to you, Mr. President, do you expect Mr. Berlusconi --
MR. DICKENS: Only one question.
THE PRESIDENT: I would have answered it, but they said, no. (Laughter.)
THE PRIME MINISTER: We will never forget that we owe our freedom -- our freedom
-- our wealth to the United States of America. And our democracy. And we also
will never forget there have been many American young lives that were lost and
sacrifice themselves for us.
So for us, the United States is not only our friend, but they are the guarantee
of our democracy and our freedom. And I already has the opportunity to say this
to President Bush, every time I see the U.S. flag, I don't see the flag only
representative of a country, but I see it as a symbol of democracy and of freedom.